What lens do you use for the stories you tell about yourself? Is it a hopeful one? Ambitious? Deficit-laden? My thinking on our stories got a reboot this past weekend thanks to a call from a dear friend, Marielle. I am not talking about the stories we use when we introduce ourselves for the first time nor the ones we rely on when a loved one calls for a full update on a recent drama. I am talking about the stories we tell ourselves. The quiet ones that we may never say out loud. Have you ever stopped to listen to the through line of that story? Let alone questioned its validity?
Stories have been on my brain for the past few weeks since I am in the final stages of writing my 2nd book. Yes, you heard it here first. My second book, which features new research on transition and a very granular ‘how to’ guide for navigating life’s most challenging moments, is nearing its completion. I am checking and rechecking data to support all the stories and I am becoming a resident expert on the use of narratives in our lives.
Did you know that narratives, or stories, are tools that help us compose our identities and make sense of our experiences? Academic researchers describe them as vehicles that allow for the “construction and expression of meaning” (Kohler Riessman, 1993). Transitions occur when there is a shift in what holds value and meaning to us. Narratives, therefore, serve as essential tools in transitioning because they help us work through those shifts and reconstruct a renewed sense of who we are.
Given all of this digging around in narratives – and the last decade in transition myself – I listen to stories differently now.
Back to my friend’s call this past weekend.
Marielle, a 40-ish dynamic incredibly-smart woman, touched our hearts unexpectedly via Zoom on Saturday evening. She recently connected with her birth family after having been adopted by a loving family as an infant. Modern technology, from DNA testing to social media, played a role. None of that mattered as she retold the touching moments when she connected for the first time with a mom, a dad. It seems each had wondered about their baby girl. They opened their hearts to her.
The piece in all of this that caught my attention was the change in Marielle’s story. You see, there had always been this quiet through line about being unwanted. It walked silently next to her over the arc of her life. You see, she learned something important in her connection with her birth parents. Their hearts broke to give her up for adoption. She was wanted, desperately.
This extraordinary connection helped Marielle decouple from a limiting part of her story. Its impact was instantly visible; you could see it in her face, her energy. Her story switched from one of being unwanted to one about being loved.
We may not all be fortunate enough to have an extraordinary connection help us rewrite our stories, but we are all capable of doing so. Thanks to Marielle, I am reminded that we reflexively fill-in-the-blanks in our stories, sure that we know the ‘answer.’ What if the through line we rely on is incomplete or if we are mistaken?
I encourage you to take a moment to reconsider your story. Are there pieces of it that may be invalid or long past their useful life? What if you started it, as Marielle learned to do, with love?
Happy belated Valentine’s Day.
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